I’ve been hanging out in Night Vale lately, and readers, it is perfect. (Some spoilers ahead, so proceed with caution.)
[i font=”v32″ code=”e063″ size=”36px” onsize=”44px” color=”#ffffff” oncolor=”#ffffff” padding=”16px” onpadding=”12px” bgtype=”gradient” bg1=”#c02942″ bg2=”#7f1b2c” onbg1=”#53727b” onbg2=”#273b3f” borderwidth = “1px” bordercolor = “transparent” borderstyle = “solid” borderradius = “50%” effect = “spin” link = “” target = “self” align = “none” margin = “4px 15px 0px 0px”]For those of you unfamiliar with the wonder that is Welcome to Night Vale, it’s a twice-monthly podcast put out by Commonplace Books. It’s in the style of a small town community radio broadcast, but the small town isn’t like anywhere you grew up. (I hope.) There are a lot of comparisons being thrown around out there, most of them involving some combination of: Lovecraft, Stephen King, Twin Peaks, NPR, A Prairie Home Companion, and The X-Files. And while none of those are inaccurate, exactly, they don’t really do the show justice. (One of the reasons that all of the Lovecraft comparisons make me a little uneasy is that old H.P. was a big ol’ racist, and Night Vale just wouldn’t stand for that.)
The show has exploded in popularity in the last few months, and one of the things earning it particular acclaim and notice is its world-building and character development. Night Vale takes place, more or less, in our world, just in a peculiarly weird corner of it. It’s a town where the paranormal is normal, and the characters just roll with it. What’s remarkable to me is the cast of characters that creator Joseph Fink and writers Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have brought into existence. Our entertainment is still, in 2013, generally focused on the same types of characters: white, male, straight, and frankly, boring. Night Vale’s citizens are a bunch of wonderful and weird people, and shockingly, they’re diverse. And it’s about time.
One of the defining characteristics of WtNV is that, as a fictional radio broadcast, you don’t ever see the characters. So canon consists only of what we, as listeners, are told. And we’re told some pretty awesome things.
[icon name=”icon-star”]Queer main characters! Our host, Cecil, is completely and totally smitten with the new scientist in town, Carlos, who is absolutely perfect. As listeners, we’re rooting for Carlos to get it together and realize what a catch Cecil is. And, this is the key, it’s not a big deal. Not for the characters, not for the listeners, not for anyone. It’s treated with the exact same weight as straight relationships are given in other entertainment media, no more and no less, and it’s fantastic.
[icon name=”icon-star”]The Apache Tracker is an asshole. With this one character, WtNV has encapsulated everything that’s wrong with cultural appropriation and demonstrated to us, as listeners, that no one thinks it’s cool. The Apache Tracker is described as a white guy (of possibly Slavic origin), wearing a cartoonishly inaccurate headdress, who refers to things like “Indian Magicks,” much to the chagrin and embarrassment of Night Vale. Cecil himself can’t contain his disdain for the Apache Tracker, calling him an “asshole” and a “racist embarrassment.” As a side note, I’ve seen some stuff floating around out there (OK, on Tumblr. It’s always on Tumblr), where white people think that cosplaying as the Apache Tracker is a good idea. White people, you are missing the point entirely, and this is a terrible idea.
[icon name=”icon-star”]Major characters of color. Carlos the scientist is described as having “dark, delicate skin.” Most fan art seems to represent this, and depicts Carlos as a person of color, which is great. Less great is the way fan-art-Cecil is most commonly depicted (we’re never given a canon description of Cecil). The fan art version of Cecil seems to be a white guy, blond, with a third eye and (often animated) tattoos and the occasional tentacle. We just talked about appropriation, people, and your third eye headcanon is treading dangerously close. It’s just as likely (more so, as far as I’m concerned) that Cecil is Native American, Asian, Black, or Mexican. Fans, come on, a third eye and moving tattoos is within the realm of possibility, but making Cecil a POC is just too far out there? You’re better than that. Night Vale is better than that.
[icon name=”icon-star”]Badass women: Intern Dana, Tamika Flynn, Mayor Pamela Winchell – Night Vale is full of complex, fully realized women. Holy crap, just like the real world. Who knew?
If you aren’t listening to Welcome to Night Vale, you should be. Not just because it’s incredible storytelling (which it is), but because any project that handles diversity and inclusion so smoothly and well should be supported and encouraged, in the hopes that more mainstream forms of entertainment will take notice, and realize that there is an audience who wants to see better representation in all forms of media.